updating your emotional blueprint
Based on unofficial observation of everyone I’ve ever known (and 30+ years of careful and frequently unflattering self-study), most of us spend our adult lives acting not based on the current reality at hand, but on life blueprints that were handed down to us so early we can barely remember or consciously articulate them. [See article on how this shows up in the workplace here.] As we grow and our circumstances change, the rules, values, priorities, fears, and drives ingrained in us from our earliest days about “how the world works” rarely get examined or modified, unless forced by a catastrophic life event.
Often, those blueprints are outdated and ineffective by the time we reach our thirties (or even earlier). Even the lucky few whose early blueprints were formed by the wisest and most loving parents, in the most stable and well-resourced communities, are bound to encounter some jarring mismatches between their blueprints and what actually works in an often-triggering adult reality.
Frequently, we find that challenging or even threatening situations expose our darker corners, our unexplored and lower-functioning defense mechanisms, triggering our reptilian brain’s fight, flight, or freeze response. From our early life blueprints, we may have learned to reflexively react to stressors with defensiveness, compartmentalization, anger, denial, isolation, ultimatums, lying, over/under eating, loss of self-worth, paralysis, self-harm, excessive shopping, depression, compulsive behaviors, trying to “fix” others, or any number of other less-than-enjoyable coping mechanisms. Rarely are they effective in achieving the desired outcome. In fact, they actually often produce the exact opposite of the desired outcome.
Certainly none of this is surprising to anyone who has managed to exist to adulthood in civilized society. I would argue, though, that regardless of your blueprint - your unique blend of coping mechanisms - what’s called for, in order to break the cycle of triggered reactivity, is a conscious and deliberate effort to heal the wounded parts of yourself, revisiting and revising the junctures where those ineffective coping mechanisms were “drawn” into your blueprint.
In a moment of calm, none of us would consciously choose to react to triggers in dysfunctional ways. So if we can become aware of our blueprint of reactive patterns, and heal the painful moments from whence they developed, we will find ourselves vastly more capable of choosing more constructive responses when a similar challenge arises the next time around.
To use an example from my own life, as an adult I consistently exhausted myself with self-improvement efforts and attempts to hide anything that might be perceived as a weakness from even my closest relationships. Dear friends and partners commented on this out of bafflement and concern, but this feedback only further heightened what I sensed as the possibility of an upcoming criticism or rejection, so I clamped down on myself even further. I was drained, and worse, felt absolutely alone in the world: nobody knew the painful and flawed truth of my inner life, because I was so busy keeping it carefully hidden. Talk about a self-defeating coping mechanism!
Simply attempting to mechanically force myself to be more “vulnerable” with the people close to me was doomed from the outset. There was a very real reason that my developing brain had deemed self-disclosure to be an intolerable risk, and reading all the self-help books in the world wasn’t going to convince that deeply ingrained, protective part of me to stand down overnight.
Instead of leaping into action (yay more self-improvement!) to quickly “fix” the outward appearance of this new problem with myself, I had to change tactics. Like the difference between using a weed whacker versus manually pulling a weed out from its roots, my attempts at the former had produced only temporary and superficial results. I had to do the slower, messier work of hunting this maladaptive coping mechanism down at its origin.
Where was this section of my blueprint, and could I re-design it to fit what I truly wanted for my life now?
Ultimately the answer was yes, though it was not as straightforward or quick as my efficient project manager brain would’ve liked. The process (not just for this particular issue) required no shortage of meditation, journaling, therapy, coaching, body work, and yes, a lot of self-help books. More critically, for someone like me who is determined to ask for help as infrequently as possible, I had to learn to lean on a wise, caring advisor to witness and guide me through the work of healing the many moments that shaped my self-sabotaging coping mechanisms.
That work, applied to many more scenarios than just the one shared above, formed the foundation of powerful and long-overdue shifts across every domain of my life. My passion now is to be the compassionate, truthful, and experienced guide for others ready to undertake a similar adventure of self-discovery and healing, toward the more joyful, loving, and connected life they deserve. If that sounds like you, let’s talk.